by Trevor Vaughan Jones


One of the least known quarries of the Cape Peninsula, and not easy to spot, was worked on Seaforth beach in 1865, where granite was shaped on site to re-enforce the shaky foundation of Roman Rock lighthouse, built only a few years earlier in 1861.  This well known False Bay “landmark” (if one may call it that) is South Africa’s only lighthouse built on a rock at sea, which becomes visible at low tides.  It was quite an achievement to construct, for builders had to work with waves washing over the rock.  The original concrete foundation developed cracks from the buffeting of the waves. The best way to repair the damage was to build a granite sheath around the base, twelve and a half feet high. The nearest source of granite was the large boulders on the seashore, which could be worked wherever they had been exposed on the surface. Stonemasons were employed to carefully chisel out 4 ton rounded sections, which were first assembled on the beach to make sure they fitted together perfectly, then taken to the lighthouse on a specially made barge.  They were offloaded by a derrick attached to the pier jutting out from the lighthouse, and pulled to the tower by an aerial railway, and from there carefully assembled around the base in waist high water. In those days the lighthouse was manned by two keepers, who stocked their tower with ample quantities of food, lamp oil, water, and other necessities.  They took turns being relieved after a week at sea by another keeper, if and when weather permitted him to be rowed out.  So next time you are in the Seaforth-Boulders area give the penguins a miss, and look out for signs of chiselling on the rocks. For that’s all that now remains of one of the Peninsula’s most curious quarrying operations.  TVJ


The Western Cape has a number of manganese deposits but the reserves are not large, and some have a high phosphorus level. In the Peninsula deposits were known and worked on Constantiaberg in 1880, but the best deposit is on the mountain slopes above present day Chapman’s Peak Drive, near Hout Bay.  In 1909, Hout Bay Manganese Ltd was formed by A J Parker and a Mr Prior worked the deposit, and a photo shows the miners to be turbaned Indians.  In those days Hout Bay was a sleepy fishing village.  Chapman’s Peak Drive hadn’t yet been built, and the roads to Wynberg and Cape Town were still untarred. So the best way of transporting the ore was by sea, and to get the ore there a 750 m cylindrical corrugated iron chute was made that ran downhill at nearly 45 degrees.  From workings at the top, ore was shovelled in to come rumbling down with a thunderous roar into a sump at the bottom.  From there a crane hoisted the ore into cocopans, which were railed along a specially built jetty to an awaiting barge, and from there it was towed to an awaiting ship (in Table Bay?) and sent to Britain and Belgium.  Constant problems arose from ore overheating in its downward passage through the chute, and getting stuck.  This meant sections of the chute had to be taken apart and the ore dynamited loose. A mythical story arose about the miners being drunk and sending down too much ore in an avalanche that sank the barge. This was impossible as the barge was never docked anywhere near the bottom of the chute.  The mining methods proved slow and in 1910 some 5000 tons of ore were produced, but in 1911 a mere 130 tons.  So the mine closed down and all that remains are the concrete pillars of the jetty jutting into Chapman’s Bay and the old adits that form a feature of interest to mountain climbers. A good place to learn a lot more about the mine is the Hout Bay Museum in Andrews Road, where there are enlarged photographs.  A second myth surrounds the making of Chapman’s Peak Drive, which was said to have been made by Italian prisoners of war during World War 1. During the First World War, the Italians were allies and the road was built with local convict labour and completed in 1922.  TV


No exploitable silver is found in the Western Cape and the Dutch mistook other minerals for it. In those days identification relied on the unaided eye, and the only known microscope and “burning glass” belonged to Governor Simon van der Stel, and were gifts presented by visiting French Jesuit astronomers in 1685. The best known of the “silver mines” is the old Zilvermyn alongside Ou Kaapse Weg on the Steenberg, and is one of three mines, the others being on either side of the Silvermine River in the valley below. They are dated 1687 from an entry in the Company’s diary on 15th November, when Van der Stel was making a journey to what would be later called Simon’s Town in his honour. “The Commander, continuing his journey along the beach, met three company’s servants and black boy, all stationed at the mines at the Steenbergen, having with them two muskets.” They claimed to be searching for runaway slaves but were probably enjoying a hunting trip, being normally far from the Castle’s prying eyes. Four months later a Johann Vogel visited the “Steinberg” and found the mines ruined. Writing on the 25th March, 1688 he records “I examined the mine, finding beside the shaft a considerable quantity of ore obtained from this, which was asserted to be copper ore but was in fact nothing but a coarse iron glance (hematite) mixed with copper dust(?). It was not possible to visit the shaft, since it had fallen in, and also the cross beams and shores, together with most of the ladders in it were broken and crushed together. By the side of the shaft I saw some remains of a smelting furnace, in which the Mine Overseer, Gabriel Moller, (who had been there for a time, but who later came to the West coast of Sumatra) had smelted the ore, but obtained nothing but cobalt ore”. Cobalt then meaning infusible ore, as the metal was only discovered in 1735. From this and other sources a story emerges. In 1686, the year after Van der Stel’s trip to find copper in Namaqualand, his Chief Miner, Frederick von Werlinckhoff, claimed to find silver on Van der Stel’s own farm Witteboomen, and with two miners sank an impressive sixteen fathom shaft in what is now Cecelia Forest Station. A dispute arose and the miners asked the Governor for a transfer. A suspicious Van der Stel asked another Chief Miner, Gabriel Moller, awaiting a ship to the Indies to investigate. He did and reported no silver. So von Werlinckhoff was arrested for wasting the Company’s money and sent off to Sumatra, while Moller was kept on at the Cape. Nobody knew better than he what happens to those who waste money, so when he worked the Steenberg the following year and found there was no silver he was a worried man. The easiest way out would have been to melt a coin and show it as “promising ore”. This of course would have quickly petered out, and he would have been sent on to Sumatra, but not in chains like his predecessor. There is no reason to believe the mines were salted. They were never offered up for sale and remained the property of the Dutch East India Company. The first true bogus mine was worked in 1743 at Groot Drakenstein by a Frans Muller, who cheated many leading citizens out of money.  TVJ


The Vredehoek Tin Mine on the lower slopes of Devil’s Peak was started in 1911, and on 16th January, 1912, the Cape Argus stated that tin in the form of cassiterite was being fetched out of a shaft 180 feet deep, connected to an adit. The mining was being carried out by about 100 men employed by the Vredehoek Tin Company, who claimed the ore yielded 2 ½% tin.  An old photograph of the mine in its heyday shows a large and sturdy three-legged hoist towering above a group of miners at the shaft. Nearby stood a tall steam boiler, and rail tracks had been laid out for cocopans.  Unfortunately the ore was erratically scattered in solid rock, and it was cheaper to mine alluvial tin in the Durbanville area.  The mine ceased operations during the 1st World War after producing some four tons of ore concentrates. The mine is easily reached by a dirt road at the end of Chelmsford Road, in Vredehoek. It passes the old Vredehoek Quarry, also worth a visit to inspect its tunnel entrance.  The mine is soon reached where one can easily spot the stone ore-crushing platforms and concrete ore-washing troughs alongside a stream.  This stream floods in winter and barricades of rock wrapped in wire netting have been erected.  A short walk along a path upstream brings one to a small weir used in the mining days, which is now filled with dark coloured water and is home to croaking frogs.  This is as much as most can hope to see.  Erosion has made it impossible to negotiate the steep sides of the ravine above the weir.  That is where the shaft and adit of the Argus article lie.  Nearer at hand is a second mine and adit, but well hidden with only a stone wall to indicate its whereabouts.  It would be a filthy business to crawl inside because the entrance is under a metre high.  The shrubbery is tall and thick in places and this, together with steep and dangerous slopes of the stream, make it a good idea to keep to the safety of the paths. Stories of muggings on the mountain make it a good idea to visit the mine in a group. For lovers of hiking there are a number of well-made paths in the area.


Picture from “Under Lion’s Head” by M. Murray

In 1685 French astronomer Fr Guy Tachard wrote “ some folk feel sure that at the Cape there are gold deposits”.  Well, as things turned out there are, but not in payable amounts.  In 1859 a Captain Glendinning found gold on his property at Camps Bay, and in 1865 an employee of Thorne and Stuttafords found gold on Table Mountain.  During 1886 claims of gold fines came from Noordhoek and Glencairn, and a Lion’s Head Gold Syndicate was searching for gold on a farm owned by a Jan Hofmeyer (not “Onze Jan”) on the slopes of Lion’s Head. In 1887 they struck gold and the Cape Argus of 23rd November printed a Supplement of the mine and its workings, which was situated about 100 m below today’s start of the Lion’s Head hiking trail on Signal Hill road.  A gold rush stared with seekers climbing all over the mountain and a Mr Jacobus Vlok falling to his death.  The Argus of 2nd December announced the formation of a new company to be called the Lion’s Head (Cape Town) Gold Mining Company that offered shares. A shaft of 45 m was sunk and from a ton of quartz containing pyrite, two ounces of gold was obtained at Wilkinson’s Mill in Kloof Street. Dr Paul Hahn of the south African College did an assay that looked promising, and believed gold could be found anywhere in a zone between the contact of granite and slate on the Sea Point seashore to the saddle between Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain.  Under the watchful eye of the Commissioner of Crown Lands, Friedrich Schermbrucker, 7 ½ tons of ore were despatched to Britain and Germany, but only 10 pounds were tested, and the assay was not done by a requested chlorination process, so the results showed no gold.  This was a great blow to the Mining Company who could now attract no more investors.  By 1893 the Company had disbanded because in that year the City Council bought their property. The shaft remained open until 1951 when a fire fighter battling a mountain fire nearly fell in, so the entrance was bulldozed over and the lid was literally put on Cape Town’s gold mining hopes.  It is unlikely that there were payable amounts of gold, but as the overseas assays were botched, nobody can say for sure. Anyway the mountain was saved from the eyesore of mining operations, and today is a protected area. TVJ


Clays formed by the alteration of Malmesbury shales are suitable for brickmaking, and over the years brickfields were established where deposits were plentiful.  The first was in Van Riebeeck’s day in 1654, next to The Company’s Garden, where a Wouter Mostert was made “tile baker”.  Since then, there have been many, especially in the area around Devil’s Peak, and Signal Hill.  One of the more ambitious was that of Caporn and Co., in Tamboerskloof in 1898.  A patent Bennett and Sayers plant, powered by a Clench engine, and boilers by Arnold of Lancashire could make 20,000 bricks a day. A 45 metre high smokestack set a fashioned to be followed by other brickworks later.  Clay was conveyed from the pit by trolleys pulled on a chain.  By 1907 it became a pottery, and in the 1920s was given over to residential development.  When Hare’s Lime Kiln and Brickfields in Mowbray were pulled down, a magnificent, old Dutch kiln was destroyed.  Begun in 1835, the brickworks were demolished to make way for the Forest Hill apartments on the Main Road.  As a kind of apology, the developers included a brickwork mural of the old kiln on the Main Road façade of the building. As traffic can be heavy here, this is best viewed on foot.  Another old landmark disappeared with the levelling of the Rochester brickworks in Observatory, and left them with a dubious claim to fame, for in 1983 two 45 metre smokestacks were toppled by the first use of explosives used for demolitions in Cape Town.  Today there are no more brickfields in the city limits.  Another clay that is useful is kaolin, or china clay, used for the making of ceramics.  It is formed by the alteration of feldspars in granite, and has been actively mined in the Fish Hoek valley since 1953.  The main user is Continental China. Mining used to be carried out by Serina Kaolin (Pty) Ltd, at Brakkloof.  At the mine they had a plant that removed quartz, mica, and other unwanted minerals from the clay.  This was filtered until it was pure and then compressed into cakes for easy handling.  A new mine was later opened on the northern side of the Noordhoek valley, on the slopes of Chapman’s Peak, and the old Brakkloof mine rehabilitated.   TVJ


In the old days, before refrigerators, salt was valuable as both a food flavouring and preservative. The Roman soldiers were given a salt ration with their pay called a “salarium”, and our modern word “salary” comes from this. When the Dutch came to the Cape, they first obtained salt from the Rietvlei and Paarden Eiland areas, but the best source of salt in the Peninsula was thought to be the Noordhoek Salt Pan, which was first worked in about 1817. Although it is overgrown with vegetation today, it is still shown as a saltpan on road maps, alongside the Chapman’s Peak – Noordhoek Road. It was regularly replenished with fresh brine during winter high tides in the past. A number of owners have worked the pan for salt over the years but it was never a great commercial success. Far larger quantities of cheaper salt were obtained from elsewhere. The booklet “Cape Town and Environs” by the then Geological survey, says that in the 1920s the pan could produce about 50 bags of salt a year. Nowadays, salt is mainly used by the chemical industry and is obtained from the evaporation of seawater from places like the Walvis Bay area in Namibia, where gigantic heaps of salt are stockpiled, and is so cheap that a plastic bag of household salt can be bought anywhere for a couple of rands. So it is very unlikely that anybody will harvest the Noordhoek pan again! The last time it was used was in the early 1930’s and for a very different purpose to collecting salt. Somebody had the bright idea of clearing the vegetation and converting the saltpan into Cape Town’s very first motor racing circuit, so until 1935 when the sport moved to Pollsmoor (now infamous for its prison), the Noordhoek valley heard the screaming whines of highly tuned engines. TVJ


Lime for making cement was first obtained from burning seashells, and Kalk Bay (literally “lime bay”) was one such place where this was carried out.  The Peninsula has large deposits of calcrete, a low quality limestone mixed with sand, and on the False Bay coast, these form cliffs at Swartklip and Booi se Skerm, where there are also shallow caves. In about 1890, a John McKellar built a lime kiln at Booi se Skerm in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, and burnt calcrete. His kiln allowed wagons to be driven up, and the limestone to be tipped in from the top.  He started a company call the Cape Point Lime and Cement Works. His kiln was retored to its original glory in 1990 and now serves as a feature of interest in the Reserve. On a far greater scale the National Portland Cement Company used calcrete taken from the Cape Flats between 1939 and 1980. On Robben Island there is a limestone quarry that was formerly worked by prisoners on the island. The material removed may have been used for road making.  TVJ


The Peninsula has several deposits of high silica content glass-making sands.  The first use of this was at Papendorp (now Woodstock) in 1879, by the South African Glass Company Ltd., who had their factory alongside the railway line at Observatory, and a showroom at the corner of Burg and Shortmarket Streets on Greenmarket Square.  Workers wre brought out from Britain and 500 shares at £10 each were sold, with the brewers Anders Ohlsson and Jacob Letterstedt being among the shareholders.  But the factory was plagued by continual staff problems and closed in 1882.  The next attempt to make glass was at Glencairn in 1902 by the Cape Galss Company Ltd. under the management of a Mr. Briarley.  Again workers were brought out from Britain, and Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries had a large stake in the business.  They claimed they could produce 8 ½ million bottles a year in either dark green or clear aqua-coloured glass, but in those days Glencairn was a lonely wind-swept hollow where sand blew everywhere and the workers got homesick for the crowded cities and towns of Britain, so in 1905 the factory closed down.  Glass Furnace Road in Glencairn is a reminder of the times.  The third use of sand was at Phillips.  According to the Mineral Resources of the Republic of South Africa and the booklet “Cape Town and Environs”, where J N Theron wrote the articles, sand has been used since 1925 from Phillipi by Consolidated Glass Works Ltd., and supplied to their factories in the Cape, Natal and Transvaal.  Over the years, 2 million tons of sand have been extracted.  But according to the book “Bottles and Bygones” by Ethleen and Al Lastovica, Consolidated Glass, or Consol Limited, as they are now known, was only formed in Pretoria in 1946.  They seem to get their information largely from geologist Percy Wagner’s authoritative work on glass, with special reference to its production in South Africa.  So a question mark now hangs over the dating of the first use of Phillipi sands and by whom. What is known for certain is Consol”s factory at Bellville dates from 1956, and for them it is certainly third time lucky in setting up a glassworks in the Peninsula area.  For their efforts have been so successful that Consol glass is a household name through the country.